Spirit of SB 76

Property tax reform is back in the news, after the Senate Finance Committee narrowly passed Senate Bill 76, which would largely replace property taxes with higher state sales and income taxes. Our school board and I agree that Pennsylvania relies too much on property taxes to fund education. But any change is not necessarily progress.

We have been here before, and it is worth reiterating my concerns about the process. Ill-considered reforms can lead to a loss of local control, an increase in collection costs and a more regressive state tax code.

Lancaster County Academy: Never Giving Up!

Over the summer, I tweeted some news about the Lancaster County Academy with the intention to elaborate on the issue when I returned to regular blogging.

The Academy, or LCA, celebrated its 20th anniversary last school year. It is a business and education partnership funded voluntarily by school districts across Lancaster County to help students who lacked success in traditional school to turn their lives around. In those two decades, it has graduated more than 700 students. Check out some of their stories from this year’s graduation.

A wake-up call on school hours?

Bucksin Briefs is back! After a summer away, I am pleased to be back to my regular blogging schedule. Again this year, I hope to post in this space at least once a week on topics that are often wider than our day-to-day school news. My goal is to foster dialogue on issues that effects students, teachers and schools in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and across the country. When appropriate, I also use this space to explain some of the tough decisions our school board and administration make throughout the year.

This week, I want to address a sleepy topic—when our school starts in the morning. Our local paper first sounded the alarm about the topic in an editorial last week and may cover the topic more extensively in the future.

Meet one of our best graduates, a high school dropout

CVH-137245-22270912At CV’s 56th Commencement a week ago, I was honored to present 342 diplomas to members of the Class of 2014 and particularly proud to recognize the students who graduated with honors. One of these top students is Karissa Chow; you may have read about her in the paper. She is a role model for her classmates. And she is a high school dropout.

If that sounds odd to you, you do not work with the state Department of Education.

Capital Campaign Crescendo

At our School Board’s meeting on May 19, Honorary Chair Jere Brown, CV Class of 1970 and member of both our Sports Hall of Fame and the CV Distinguished Alumni, reported on the progress of the Buckskin Boosters capital campaign, which, to date, has secured more than $1 million in confirmed pledges, in-kind gifts and other funds. Campaign leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to ongoing fundraising efforts. Not only have individuals and groups made monetary pledges, but local businesses have offered in-kind services that were deducted from our needs that went out to bid; in fact one gift was valued at more than $25,000. As a district goal, the capital campaign has been a new venture for not only our district, but for public schools in general.  We thank all of the folks who have been involved and continue to be involved in moving this campaign forward.

Who’s counting what in education funding?

We have not even cast ballots in our state’s primary yet, and the back-and-forth between Gov. Tom Corbett and his Democratic challengers is already heating up. Democrats running for their party’s nomination are slamming Corbett’s cuts to education, while the governor is staunchly defending his record. Here is one superintendent’s effort to cut to the heart of the matter.

Meet our newest ‘Distinguished Alumni’

Last Friday, we recognized five individuals as “Distinguished Alumni” of Conestoga Valley. The induction ceremony is one of my favorite days of the year, because it serves as a reminder of the impact our teachers and staff have on the lives of our students—when they are in school and years later. You can help this important program continue to grow!

Mandate relief – a lawmaker’s view

Today, we conclude our series on the issue of furloughing teachers for economic reasons. I am pleased to give the last word to state Rep. Ryan Aument, a Republican who represents the 41st District, which includes parts of western Lancaster County. He is a member of the House Education Committee, which is considering legislation that would give schools more flexibility in furloughing staff in order to balance budgets in lean economic times.

As Dr. Huesken pointed out, I am a strong supporter of mandate relief. The economic furlough legislation before the House Education Committee (HB1722) is an important step toward giving school districts greater flexibility in the management of their resources.

Excellent teachers are the cornerstone of an exceptional education system, yet we continue to require districts to rely solely on seniority to determine layoff decisions, meaning we often lose some of our most effective teachers simply because they have less classroom experience than other teachers. The outdated policy is not only unfair to our teachers, but also to our children. Pennsylvania is one of 11 remaining states that mandate districts determine layoff decisions solely based on seniority.

To this end, we have developed House Bill 1722 to address the issue of seniority-based layoffs, and it is clear there is a strong appetite among voters and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to end this outdated policy. The bill does ensure that furlough decisions are performance-driven by incorporating rating results from the recently implemented educator evaluation system.

Under this system, an educator’s performance rating is based on a numeric score calculated using multiple measures of student achievement and growth data AND traditional classroom observations.

With that in mind, I would like to specifically note that House Bill 1722 does not stipulate that only teachers who receive a performance rating of “failing” or “needs improvement” can be furloughed.  In the unfortunate case that furloughs are necessary, schools are simply directed to start with educators who received a rating of failing, followed by needs improvement, then proficient and last, distinguished. The idea is to ensure that we are saving our best, no matter their hire date, while letting go of the less effective first. In a school district like Conestoga Valley, this would mean, if furloughs are necessary, distinguished teachers would be the very last to be considered.

Mandate relief – a teacher’s view

noid1q02273Continuing our series on teacher furloughs in lean economic times, I am pleased to welcome Ms. Kerry Mulvihill, a teacher at CV Middle School and president of the CV Education Association, for a teacher’s perspective on the issue. You can see my thoughts, here, and our school board president’s thoughts, here. Next week, I look forward to a post from Rep. Ryan Aument for some concluding thoughts!

I would like thank Dr. Huesken for inviting me to respond to his post on state Rep. Ryan Aument’s HB 1722, which would permit school districts to allow economic furloughs of teachers.  This is an important issue.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s nearly $1 billion in school funding cuts has already caused Pennsylvania school districts to eliminate more than 20,000 education jobs since 2011. HB 1722 would allow school districts to furlough even more employees with fewer restrictions.